Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Two Copper Pieces: First Impressions of "D&D Next"

As soon as I heard that Wizards was going to crowdsource the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I signed up to be a playtester quicker then you can say "anhkheg".  Then, on May 24'th I (and presumably a million other arrested development types) received the following email:

Dear Dungeons & Dragons® Fan,

You are receiving this email because you requested information about the start of the D&D Next Playtest and how to participate. We are pleased to inform you that playtesting for the next iteration of D&D® has begun!

To thank you for your early interest and enthusiasm, we’re giving you a head start on downloading the playtest packet. Later today, we will be making the materials available to all playtesters.

To download your official playtest packet, please click here and follow the instructions provided. You will need to log in with your Wizards account or create one if you do not already have one.

Thank you for your interest in the D&D Next Playtest. We look forward to your participation and feedback.

Happy Adventuring,

The D&D Team

After reading positive feedback from some very trusted sources I spent last night reviewing the playtest materials.  Here are my wholly unsolicited opinions, listed from negative to positive...

Critical Fail:
  • Coup de grâce.  C'mon, you shouldn't have to roll to finish off an unconscious foe! 
  • Characters don't croak until they hit their CON + LEVEL in negative hit points.  Sorry, but this makes characters more resilient then friggin' Rasputin...  
  • Short Rests smack of Type Four Healing Surges.  How 'bout a max of ONE HD back for each Healing Kit usage?        
  • Long Rests smack of being COMPLETELY BATSHIT NUTS.  Inspired by an old Dragon article I've always liked natural healing based on the circumstances of rest.  For example, sleeping on a cold Dungeon Floor?  You only get back your CON modifier (with a minimum of one Hit Point).  Sleeping on a bedroll in a cozy camp or at one-star inn?  10% (+ CON modifier) of Hit Points back.   Two-star inn?  20% (+ CON modifier) of Hit Points back.  Eggcetera.        
  • Why do these pre-gens have so many friggin' Hit Points!?!   
  • I understand the reasoning behind the the Reaper's infallible striking ability, but causing damage on a miss is Peryton poo.  How 'bout giving fighters with this ability a cumulative 25% for every miss and then allow them to roll percentile dice to cause their STR modifier in damage?      
True Neutral:
  • Since I've been falling back on the old "roll under the appropriate Ability Score after modifiers on a d20" lately, I've sorta m'eh on Difficulty Class for Checks.  
  • Saving Throws based around all six Ability Scores.  Although I gotta admit, this does make a lot of sense...
  •  Individual Initiative just doesn't seem as fun as Group Initiative.
  • Turning Undead as a spell.  Despite my immediate opposition, I didn't put this in the "con" category, since the ability to Turn Undead doesn't always make sense with every single clerical template.  But when it's appropriate (like for priests of Pelor) the playtest rules allow you to Turn as a swap-out spell.  Still, for undead-heavy campaigns, I'm thinking that a limited Turning capacity will be sorely by some players.            
Critical Hit:
  • Minis are optional.
  • Contests.
  • Advantage / Disadvantage.  Increasingly so.
  • Simple carrying capacity.
  • Movement in Feet with no reference to "grid spaces".
  • Surprise with an Initiative Penalty!
  • Improvisational combat moves are actually encouraged. 
  • Max damage on a, uh...Critical Hit.  
  • Platinum and Electrum is appropriately rare and exotic.  
  • Armor classified as Light, Medium and Heavy Armor (with a simplified Dexterity effect)
  • Vancian magic.  What can I say, I'm a sucker for the classics.  
  • Backgrounds influence starting skills.  Brilliant!
  • The themes give players an immediate role-playing hook.  
Above all, the rules look simple.  They remind me of the Mentzer Basic Set books, spruced up with some legitimately good ideas cribbed fropm recent editions coupled with some completely new and innovative ideas for good measure.

I firmly believe that this approach is very sound.  Although I still dig Type 3 / 3.5 quite a bit, I always thought that the fusion between Basic and Advanced D&D was a bit of a mistake.  I think that Wizards knew it at the time too, since they ended up releasing no less then three Basic boxed sets after the fact:

Even the supposedly simplified Fourth Edition wasn't the sort of game that you could just jump in and start playing.  Hence this particularly deceptive fake-out:

So, in a way, even the initial approach here is "old school" (right down to the inclusion of "The Caves of Chaos").  Back in the day, after we'd mastered the Basic game, most of us automatically felt compelled to graduate to AD&D and experience all of the expanded possibilities that it offered.  That was a pretty solid formula, so why mess with it? 

After reading through the playtest materials for D&D Whateverthefuckitscalled, I'm left with the distinct impression that, at the very least, the design team is legitimately interested in extending the lifespan of this classic game.  Even if they ended up releasing the playtest rules exactly the way they are right now, I think it would appease the Old School crowd quite a bit and still be approachable enough for newbies to jump right in. 

And ultimately, that should be the goal of any new edition...
P.S. This particular vid sums up my thoughts to a "T"...

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